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Gujarat election results: 5 political controversies that fuelled the BJP-Cong war

BJP’s Narendra Modi and Congress’ Rahul Gandhi did their best to turn the tide in their favour, hoping to convert opponent attacks into brownie points.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2017 00:00 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi with other senior politicians during the anniversary of 2001 Parliament Attack at Parliament House in New Delhi on December 13, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi with other senior politicians during the anniversary of 2001 Parliament Attack at Parliament House in New Delhi on December 13, 2017. (Sushil Kumar/HT Photo)

Every Indian election is marked by its share of rhetorical flourishes. It is through polemics that substantial issues are sometimes debated, often skirted. Gujarat 2017 offered its own share of moments and slogans which contributed to the outcome. Here are five:

‘Vikas has gone crazy’

‘Vikas gando thayo che’ (Developement has gone crazy) started out as a social media slogan and was subsequently appropriated. Inelegant as it may sound in translation, the Gujarati slogan went viral and was a direct attack on the Gujarat model of development and BJP’s claims of governance. It pushed the BJP on the defensive, before the party eventually came up with its own rejoinder — “I am Vikas, I am Gujarat” — to defend its record. Beneath the rhetoric, from agriculture to education, jobs to incomes, every issue was being debated and contested.

Gabbar Singh Tax

Like his 2015 ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ jibe, Rahul Gandhi’s Gabbar Singh Tax description of GST stuck. It resonated with a large section of BJP’s own trader base. It also forced the BJP to undergo course corrections and revise the GST structure at a meeting of the Council in Guwahati. Urban voting patterns suggest that traders remained loyal to the BJP. But Rahul’s jibe did point to the stressed economic narrative of the party.

The ‘Neech’ remark

Within minutes of Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar calling Modi a ‘neech’ person, the PM, at a rally, highlighted how Aiyar had called him a lowly person, from a low caste. This single insult provided the peg for the PM to make an emotional, personalised pitch to the Gujarati electorate about his roots. He projected himself as a victim of the elite in Delhi. Rahul Gandhi acted swiftly and suspended Aiyar – but the damage was done. And it may have provided the last minute surge which helped BJP.

Mandir or masjid

On December 5, the Supreme Court began hearing the Ram Janmabhoomi case. Kapil Sibal argued that the court must postpone the case to middle of 2019. The BJP was quick to latch on to how a Congress leader was against a resolution of the case, was against the construction of the temple, and this represented Congress’ stance. At a time when Rahul Gandhi was hopping from temple to temple to change the Congress’ image, the Sibal episode gave BJP ammunition. Congress distanced itself from Sibal. But yet again, the damage was done. Given that a section of Gujarati Hindu electorate has sympathies for the Ayodhya movement, the BJP’s base got energised and motivated.

Aiyar dinner charge

PM Modi claimed, at a rally, that a day before Aiyar made his ‘neech’ comment, he hosted a dinner with former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri. This was attended by former PM Manmohan Singh and many others. Modi insinuated that given right after this dinner, Aiyar had made his comment – and in the past he had alluded to ‘removing’ Modi to improve India-Pakistan ties – did something occur at the dinner? The hint was obvious: Was Congress hand in glove with Pakistan to sabotage BJP in Gujarat, to insult Modi, to even eliminate him? All those who attended the dinner rejected any discussion on Gujarat took place. But Modi may have succeeded, yet again, in motivating his base, and planting a doubt about the Congress being among fence sitters.